Saving our world from becoming Planet Plastic

One road at a time

Posted 7/21/22

Scientists are extremely concerned that the world has been mass-producing plastics since the mid-1950s, to the point that we are now becoming Planet Plastic.

From Mount Everest to the deepest …

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Saving our world from becoming Planet Plastic

One road at a time


Scientists are extremely concerned that the world has been mass-producing plastics since the mid-1950s, to the point that we are now becoming Planet Plastic.

From Mount Everest to the deepest oceans, vast amounts of plastic waste contaminate the entire planet. In the last 65 years, we’ve produced nine billion tons of the stuff. And plastic production is set to double in the next two decades.

Only nine percent of that is recycled, so 91 percent ends up in landfills. And none of these commonly used plastics are biodegradable.

Even more concerning, fragmented microplastics are showing up in human bodies worldwide, even in newborns, and in nursing mothers’ milk. We inhale or ingest tiny, invisible plastic fibers floating in the air around us, fibers shed by our own clothes, carpets and upholstery, etc.

We know that microplastics damage human cells in the laboratory, and air pollution particles enter the body and cause millions of early deaths per year.

So some good news: roads internationally are starting to be built from waste plastics—trash from the ocean, plastic bottles, grocery bags, yogurt containers and even, surprisingly, used disposable diapers, a project first begun in Wales in the U.K.

The latter is welcome news indeed, as the US throws out 18 billion used diapers a year. But don’t worry, say the experts, diaper roads smell like roads, not baby poop.

Each mile of road built with plastic removes the equivalent weight of more than one million plastic bottles or 2.8 million single-use plastic bags from the environment.

“We created a repaved stretch of highway in Oroville, CA that looks like an ordinary road, but is the first highway in the country to be paved with recycled plastic. Plus two more road sections in L.A. that are performing very well,” Sean Weaver, president of TechniSoil, Redding, CA., told local sustainable-living advocacy group SEEDS. “And this year and next, we have two more projects in Minnesota and Michigan. This new type of road is much more resistant to potholes and cracking, more resistant to heat, cold and flooding, and lasts two to three times longer than standard asphalt. And because it lasts much longer than asphalt, it is much cheaper over its life cycle.”

Roads built from plastic do not absorb water, and have better flexibility that results in less rutting and less need for repair. Surfaces remain smooth, are lower maintenance, and even absorb sound better.

TechniSoil uses PET plastic to design roads, Weaver says, which is the clear and lightweight plastic that is widely used for packaging foods and beverages, especially convenience-sized soft drinks, juices and water. “We also use the distressed or unwanted PET such as delivery food containers, food bags from the grocery store, straws, carpet, packaging waste and industrial waste. Basically, it’s the 90 percent or more of PET that goes to the landfill,” he explained.

Encouragingly, road contractors already have all the equipment needed to build plastic roads, said Weaver. And there is no concern about plastic roads causing microplastic for us to inhale. “Our binder is chemically converted from plastic to an elastomer that is chemically bonded to the aggregate,” he said. “Even when it is recycled twice, or 100 years from now, it can be ground up and used for base rock without any shedding of microplastics into the environment.”

But in this new technology, the U.S. was late to the game. The first country to recycle plastics for roads was India, which started doing it 18 years ago, when the country’s fifth largest city, Chennai, commissioned 1,000 kilometers of plastic roads.

Since then, India’s fishermen have been turning ocean plastic into roads. They started doing this when they realized that their fishing nets were bringing up more sea-tossed plastic bags, bottles, flip-flops and drowned Barbie dolls than fish. Another concern about ocean plastic is that many types of marine life die after consuming plastic, thinking it is prey.

Since 2009, the northern European environmental group KIMO has been recruiting fishermen in the U.K., the Netherlands, Sweden and the Danish Faroe Islands for a similar program called Fishing for Litter. Globally, it is estimated there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic waste in our oceans. I was shocked, for example, when visiting Bali three years ago. The stunningly beautiful beaches were covered in broken-down plastics, brought in by the tides every day.

“The world is facing a tsunami of plastic waste, and we need to deal with that,” says Dr. Erik van Sebille of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, an oceanographer who tracks plastics in our seas.

Climate change is threatening to all infrastructure, but plastic roads mitigate flooding, are easier to maintain, and can be recycled up to seven times. They are also four times lighter, 70 percent faster to build, last three times longer, and produce up to 72 percent fewer carbon emissions than conventional roads.

In the last couple of years, countries as far afield as Australia, Dubai, South Africa, Germany and Taiwan are now constructing roads from waste plastic. So where does PennDOT stand on this?

According to a recent study, Pennsylvania’s road infrastructure ranks fifth-worst in the nation, as anyone driving over our constant terrain of potholes here knows. The study found that 30 percent of the Keystone State’s roads are in poor condition. And yet PA pays the fourth-highest gas prices in the country because of taxes on our gas, which is meant to go toward road repair.

PennDOT is currently testing two quarter-mile road sections with asphalt modified with recycled plastics in a pilot project, said spokesperson Alexis Campbell. The project in Delaware County will be monitored for sustainability for five years.

In the meantime, get used to the craters and ditches in PA’s roads.

Jan Goodwin is an award-winning journalist and author. This is a shorter version of a story Goodwin wrote for SEEDS. Read the entire article at

plastic, waste plastic, road, paving


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